Monday, 1 April 2013

Ingredient of the Month 19: Cashews

Cashews are such a versatile and nutritious ingredient!

Cashews seem to be featuring in a lot of our recipes over the past few months- in fact we recently bought a 5kg bag of broken cashews because we love them so much! So now perhaps is a good time to explore some facts about them...
Short, spreading evergreen cashew trees originate from Brazil but are now grown in tropical zones worldwide. The false  fruit -or pseudocarp- (from which the nut hangs down) is shaped like an upside-down heart- hence its botanical name of anacardium. (This fruit is called "cashew apple" and is also edible although it needs to be cooked to get rid of its extreme astringency.) The true fruit, in which the cashew nut grows, hangs from the false fruit. It is poisonous, and the cashew nuts are usually steamed open to avoid this getting onto them. You can get mechanically-opened truly raw cashews, but they are expensive. Nowadays, cashews are grown in Nigeria, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and various African countries as well as Brazil, and they have found their way into cuisines the world over, from China to Panama. The relatively high starch content of cashews compared to other nuts makes them a superb thickener in sauces and desserts.
Nutrition: 1oz (28g) of cashews contains 155 calories and a total fat content of 12g, only 2g of which is saturated. 100g provides 553 calories. There are several minerals in cashews: manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium- all of which do a very important job regulating the endocrine system and nourishing the skin, bones, nervous system, blood and hair. They are also co-factors for vital growth and digestion enzymes and antioxidant enzymes. Cashews are also vitamin-rich; they contain B-vitamins, including riboflavin, pyridoxine and thiamin.
Health Benefits: Cashews contain soluble fibre which promotes bowel health, and phyto-chemicals that can protect against cancer and other diseases. Their monounsaturated fat content means that they can lower harmful LDL-chloresterol  while increasing levels of "good" HDL chloresterol- this can help prevent coronary artery disease and strokes. The variety of minerals in cashews means that eating just one handful of cashews a day would be enough to prevent mineral deficiency diseases. The magnesium content in cashews is particularly good for bones and joints. It is also beneficial for the nervous system. There is a small quantity of the pigment xea-xanthin in cashews, a flavinoid antioxidant which can help prevent macular degeneration in the elderly and enhance UV filtering in the eyes. One study has even shown that eating cashew nuts regularly can reduce the chance of developing gallstones by 25%.
Cooking with cashews: Cashews are a really versatile ingredient that lend themselves to sweet and savoury dishes alike. Add this to their impressive nutritional profile and you can see that they are something of a staple for vegetarians and especially vegans. In our kitchen we often grind roasted cashews into home-made cashew butter, make delicious cashew "cream" for desserts, grind them and use them in savoury sauces or simply toast them and sprinkle into cooked rice. They are also good in flapjacks and granolas. Maybe one of the most delicious ways to eat them that we have found is culturing cashew cream to make a soft "cheese", which is a great tangy spread for crackers or topping for pizzas, salads and pastas.



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